Second Reading: Romans 16:25-27
Why Praise God?
25 Glory be to God! He gave you strength with the message I preached about the Lord Jesus Christ. That message uncovers what was hidden for a very long time. But now, by the command of the eternal God, the message shows everyone what the prophets wrote about. And it makes everyone know they should trust and obey God. 27 So, through Jesus Christ, may there be glory to God, the only wise One, forever! Amen!
25 To the ONE able to strengthen you with my good news and preaching of the LORD JESUS CHRIST, with the uncovering of mysteries having been quiet from very long ago, 26 but now, with the command of the eternal God, having been shown through the writings of prophecy, having been made known for the obedience of faith for all the nations, 27 to the only wise God, (may there be) glory through JESUS CHRIST into the (eternal) ages. Amen!
16:25 "from very long ago" is literally "in times eternal." Since this phrase acts as an adverb modifying the participle "having been quiet," the reference is to the past.
Paul wrote his famous letter the Roman church sometime between 55 to 58 A.D. The community had a rocky history. The clashes between the Christians and Jews caused both groups to be expelled from the capitol in 49 A.D. by Claudius (see Acts 18:2). Nero lifted the ban in 54 A.D. We can only assume the community at Rome was watched by imperial officials and was rejected by the Jewish leadership. Hence followers there felt isolated.
Paul wrote his letter, in part, to defend his position that universal salvation came from the Jews. But that belief did not entail Gentile converts to become Jews. Trust in God and his Christ opened the door to such salvation; simple duty to the Torah did not. We can assume Paul gave the theological logic to defend a practice already common in the churches at the time: allowing full fellowship between Jewish Christians and Gentile neophytes.
These three verse constitute the ending praise (or doxology) in the letter. Since this praise could be found at different places in different ancient manuscripts, there has been speculation among some biblical scholars as to the true length of the letter. (Hence the brackets around the literal translation.) Nevertheless, these verses create a formal ending that indicated the letter was to be read (and re-read) in a liturgical setting.
The verses actually form one long sentence. The verb of the sentence is absent, but understood as the verb "to be" (found in 16: 27 as "(may there be) glory"). The person who received the glory was God ("to the ONE" in 16:25 and "to the only wise God" in 16:27).
Why should God receive glory? Because he strengthened the Roman faithful in three ways. First, he gave strength them through Paul's message (literally "good news") and his preaching. Since there is no indication Paul stepped foot in Rome before the letter was written, we can only assume three possibilities: Paul referred to his missionary work in the eastern provinces of the Empire. Or, Paul meant the consistent message he preached on the road. Or, he pointed to the message written in the letter itself. (Of course, he could have meant all three!) [16:25]
Second, God strengthened the community by revealing his will in a way that was hidden in the past. Obviously, he meant the presence of the Messiah. [16:26a]
Third, God strengthened the community by the relationship he expected everyone to have with him, on built on faith. Having trust in God automatically places the believer in a position of obedience. (I obey God. Why? Because I trust him!) Paul pointed to the intimate relationship written in the prophets as one built on faith. Implicitly, this obedience built on faith formed the early Christian communities. [16:26b] This is the same relationship God expects of us.
God calls us to praise him for the same reasons Paul gave: tradition, presence, and community. God strengthens us with his word in the Scriptures. He is present to us now in a way that reveals "mysteries hidden in the past." (That's why Orthodox Christians call Eucharist "the Divine Mysteries.") And, he fortifies us with gift of faith found in a relationship with him and in fellowship with other Christians.
Why praise God? For the gifts he has given us. May we use Scripture, his grace, and our fellowship within the community as sources of strength, not as part of the Christian landscape we take for granted.
How do you use the three gifts God has given you? How have you praised God for his gifts?